Robin: Birds are my friends. They know I watch them, but they don't mind cause they like being watched. If they know you won't hurt them.
I got this movie from Netflix but it sat around for at least a week before I got around to watching it because it doesn't really matter how much you like the cover or how good the reviews are, watching a movie about a child molester isn't something you look forward to. However, it turned out to be not about child molesting, but about temptation.
Walter (Kevin Bacon) returns to his small hometown after being released from prison for molesting two preteen girls. He tries to lead a normal life, working a factory job and keeping to himself, but in spite of the help he receives from his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt), his new girlfriend Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick), and his psychiatrist (the incomparable Michael Shannon), Walter feels his old urgings returning. His willpower is further weakened by the hostility from the community around him and the thinly veiled threats made by Detective Lucas (Mos Def). In a town where everyone mistrusts and despises him, Walter must struggle to not repeat the mistakes of his past to prove to himself and those around him that he is more than his weakness.
This movie is difficult to watch because of the subject matter and Kevin Bacon's performance is spot on for the weird, single guy you would keep your child away from at the park but part of what makes us so uncomfortable is that all of us on some level can relate to this character. At his core he is a man who struggles with his own weakness and the temptation that surrounds him everyday. He hates this weakness so much that sometimes it consumes him but as the temptation grows he feels powerless to withstand it. His situation is remarkable because his weakness is so strongly against the societal norm that he is rejected, taunted, and threatened, but all of us have weaknesses we battle with, feeling that we lack the strength to improve ourselves and hating ourselves just a little when we succumb.
This film presents that struggle in black and white with a crime that disgusts everyone, even the protagonist. We even see his internal struggle through his observations of another child molester who lures little boys into his car with candy. Although despising the child molester and worrying about the boys, Walter cannot bring himself to alert the police and even tries to reason that the boys are getting into the car because they want to. It is only when he finally gives in to temptation and tries to convince a little girl named Robin to sit in his lap that he realizes the harm he is doing.
Robin enjoys bird watching in a secluded park and does not have many friends, but is friendly to Walter when he starts a conversation. When he asks her to sit in his lap, she tells him that his father asks her to sit his lap too and starts to cry as Walter figures out that she has been molested before. In the face of this gentle, quiet girl who possesses an innocent wisdom, he finally sees the mark of his actions, the internal scarring that is done even if there are no outward signs. In the ultimate temptation, she offers to sit in his lap, but he has finally found the strength to overcome his weakness. That night, overwhelmed with self-hatred and desire to right the wrongs he has done, he mercilessly beats the other child molester as he drops a boy off by the school yard, symbolically destroying the evil inside of himself.
The title comes from a speech given by Detective Lucas during one of his visits to Walter. He mentions to story of Red Riding Hood where the Woodsman rescues the girl by cutting open the stomach of the wolf so that the girl tumbles out without a scratch. After the horrible acts of violence he has seen committed on children, he feels that there is no woodsman in the world. This is the story of Walter trying to change from a Wolf to a Woodsman. But as he saw, it is not just external damage that hurts children. It is the internal damage everyone inflicts with their own weaknesses, sins we sometimes feel will only affect ourselves. In some ways we are no different than Walter. In all our actions we are either the woodsman or the wolf and God help us if we are the wolf, because there are so few woodsmen left.